Friday, 18 April 2014

Dream another dream

You may remember a while back I wrote about the Spanish elmonstruodecoloresnotieneboca (the monster of colours has no mouth) project, which launched in 2002 with the aim to traverse a 'worldwide journey to collect dreams written by kids in different countries.' A selection of these transcribed dreams are then passed on to various artists, who, with the help of their talents and a little imaginative license, then render them visually on the page. The project has seen children from Mexico, Spain, Brazil, France, Cuba, Germany and Israel participate since its foundation. 

Elmonstruodecoloresnotieneboca produce these 'dream booklets' for sale as concertina comics of a sort,  a leporello, with each 'page' serving as a panel, which unfolded tells a larger story. A number of immensely talented artists have taken part in the project (you can see more at their website, which is a treasure trove of art, and you might want to bookmark), and they were kind enough to send me a selection, which I thought I'd scan and share here-it's the weekend, which means nice art to wash your eyeballs in. First up, is the one I was most excited about: German cartoonist Thomas Wellmann's Denitro De Mi Pelo (Inside My Hair). If there's one thing we've established about Wellmann here on the blog, it's that the man can draw -see Pimo and Rex for pictorial evidence- he's a blend of Lewis Trondehim and Zac Gorman, creating gorgeous, brightly coloured adventure-scapes, populated by animals, and geometric, angular, round, gloopy odd and yet charming characters. Here, he takes six individual dream transcriptions and brings them together in one busy, zany world- the composition of it is amazing.

The titular dream, as visualised on the cover, from Andrea, aged 9: 'I dreamed I had very long hair and at night a monster came out and camouflaged itself inside my hair, until one day I caught him. But because he was a good monster, we became friends.'

I love this spread, encompassing a few dreams, Wellmann's genuisely woven them all together so they exist in the same narrative/world. See if you can find these two:

'I dreamed that I was locked in my house and my friends were monsters. One of them had a single eye, the other one had six ears and the other one had ten arms. We became friends. In the street we wore costumes so they wouldn't see us. I dressed up as a monster and er were going to a fancy dress party.' -another gem from Andrea, aged 9.

'I dreamed that when I was having breakfast I found a head under the table and it told me there was a tournament for killing zombies. I went out of the house and there were a hundred zombies destroying the village. the head gave me a sword made of diamonds and I killed all the zombies, and that's how they gave me the trophy and I woke up.' -Joan, aged 9. There's a really good interview with Wellmann over at the site, too which is worth a read, if you're at all interested in his work.

'Lie Die' by Israeli artist Roni Fahima is pretty super- the dreams here have obviously been chosen for their similar themes and then presented to the artist- the ones here have a focus on space and some slightly more ominous in tone: 'I dreamed that if you say a lie you will die. Lots of people lied so they died. The only way to not die was to not lie for one day but we couldn't so everybody died.' -Fitnat, aged 9

'The Perfect Sleepwalker' illustrated by Matthew Houston: 'I dreamed about a truck driver who was a sleepwalker. At night he dreamed that he had a racing car and he sleepwalked and turned the truck into a racing car.' -Alejandro, aged 10. I love Houston's interpretative style here, fairytale/fable reminiscent, rendered in that precise, pattern/symbol-esqe, tapestry manner.

'My dream was  that I fed a white unicorn that had a very long horn and only ate grass and dried fish.' - Alvaro

'Mas Granndes Y Viejos' (More Big and Old') illustrated by Amanda Baeza: this one is slightly different in nature as the whole concertina comic is only re-telling one dream, which is honestly quite beautiful: 'Yesterday I dreamed that i was at home and it started to snow outside. i felt very happy and went to play with my siblings, throwing snowballs. I hid in a cave and found a monster that wouldn't let me in because he was protecting something. it was a puppy. The monster and I became friends and he let me the puppy. When the snow was gone, the monster disappeared and the puppy too. I don't know why but I kept them in my heart until it snowed again, and the monster and the dog came back, but they were bigger and older.' -Maria

Baeza's approach is lovely, surreal, sparse, playful, but so evocative.

And finally 'best Friend's illustrated by Wren Mcdonald, who brings 9 year old Olivia's dream to the page: 'Today I dreamed I was at the park, being chased by some of my best friends. When they caught me, they threw me into a black hole. And that black hole took me to Mars, that planet in space. I was exploring and some extraterrestrial tied me up. When they took me to their leader, he ate me.' I like how the project underlines the role of the artist in comics- these dreams could be spun out in so many ways, but it's the artist who brings the tone and emotion and decides which way it's all going to lean.

As I've stated previously, I'm a big fan of the elmonstruodecoloresnotieneboca project, and the work Roger Omar does, particular in involving schools and children around the world to demonstrate the power of imagination, words and pictures. I can't imagine how exciting it would be for a child to send off the dream they wrote and get one of these amazingly illustrated booklets back. They're really well designed, too, on quality cardboard, and are a pretty nice things to have and give in their own right- you can visit the online shop here.

Great Beast to publish Elliot Baggott's Hundred Metre Garden

British comics publishing outfit, Great Beast, have announced the addition of Elliott Baggott to their stable, with Baggott set to publish his debut graphic novel, Hundred Metre Garden, under the Great Beast imprint later this year.  Baggott has been serialising the comic, which follows a group of friends moving into a rundown house in South London, intent on turning it into the ultimate party pad, online since last year. As time passes, and the endless days of revelry taper off, the four friends descend into apathetic mood. But it's soon clear that the atmosphere is something more than the gloom of winter; it's the house itself and something that resides within it.

I've been reading snatches of Baggott's narrative here and there, and his ear for dialogue, assured story-telling, and keen charcaterisation remind me of Alex Robinson, and coupled with his pencilled art style, he's definitely one to keep an eye on. I think this is a really good acquisition for Great Beast; with Baggott bringing another dimension to their roster of artists, which currently includes UK comic creators such as Isabel Greenberg, Robert Ball, Warwick Johnson-Cadwell, John Cei Douglas, Adam Cadwell, and Marc Ellerby. A release date for Hundred Metre Garden will be announced in the upcoming months, meanwhile you can read parts 1 and 2 of the story here.

News, Views, and Oddities #31

It's Friday, and I always like to start with something untaxing, preferably great art, which this week comes courtesy of these Akira-inspired pieces that Ronald Wimberley created for Lupe Fiasco's Tetsuo and the Wolves tour, which remained unused. The height of cool. 

The big news this week was the announcing of the Eisner nominations, and from a UK-centric point of view, it was fantastic to see so many British books, publishers and artists recognised and in the mix. There were nods for Luke Pearson and Hilda and the Bird Parade, Tom Gauld's collection of strips (published with Drawn and Quarterly, Nobrow 8: Hysteria for best anthology, Isabel Greenberg and The Encyclopedia of Early Earth (how well is that book doing?), Rob Davis' Complete Don Quixote, and more. From the articles I've read, the general response has been largely positive; with nominees gathered from every corner of comics, representing a spectrum of styles, genres and even 'scenes,' which is a hugely positive thing to see. I suppose I should address the nomination of this blog for 'Best Comics-Related Periodical/Journalism' along with Comic Book Resources, TCJ (both print and online versions), and Multiversity. I would say I'm grateful to Tom Spurgeon for not entering this year, but only time will tell. More seriously, congratulations to everyone who was shortlisted; it's certainly a nice feeling to have your efforts validated in some small way.

The other big news (since the blog returned from last week's break) was Amazon's purchase of Comixology, and at this point I will direct you to the Comics Reporter who has a more thorough look at things as they stand, and possible impact. I'd think the more immediate impact is probably if comics purchased will be retained or not.

I'd not come across these Bill Watterson editorial cartoons before, done some time in 1982, before Calvin and Hobbes. Interesting historically, and to note what looks like the use of watercolours.

Steve Morris talks to Kate Brown and Neil Cameron about their new comic, for kids weekly comic, The Phoenix. Pretty excited about that one- both Cameron and Brown do stellar work, and Brown's illustrating this one- which looks slightly similar in vein to her amazing, and unfinished Spider-Moon.

If you've not seen it yet, Bruce Timm produced a beautiful new short to celebrate Batman's 75th anniversary:

Dave Scheidt interviews James Kochalka- I love comic format interviews, and Kochalka's bought his easy charm to this one. Perfect, easy Friday reading.

Some things you come across which are equally befuddling and amusing in an odd way: did you know, for example, Frank Cho dislikes Superman very, very much? So he jumped at the chance to do a commission that required him to re-do a pivotal scene from The Dark Knight Returns. 

I came over these old Garfield Halloween strips, which essentially implied that the whole narrative of Garfield was that he'd been dead a long time, living in an abandoned, decaying house, his life with Jon and Odie a figment of his lonely, denial and grief-struck imagination. But not really, thank God. 

Comics you should read:

Fantagraphics released the cover to Eleanor Davis How to be Happy and it's strikingly beautiful- the top image is the front cover, and the bottom one the complete wrap-around. The book releases in August sometime, I believe.

Thursday, 17 April 2014

Nobrow 9 Oh So Quiet: the serenity of silence

Never let anyone tell you that good reviews are easier to pen than bad ones; it is difficult to think of a fresh summation of Nobrow's flagship anthology, other than this: it's last 2 volumes have been as exemplary as a showcase of graphic art and illustration that you could ever ask for. The anthology has gone from strength to strength since it's original incarnation -which was larger in format and purely illustrative- settling into the A4, double-cover, flip book guise- one half comprising of comics, the other of illustrative spreads. Editors Sam Arthur and Alex Spiro's keen curative abilities are once again on display, drawing together a host of  fine contributors from around the world, including Kyla Vanderklugt, Raymond Lemstra, Hellen Jo, Disa Wallander, Joseph Lambert, Bianca Bagnarelli, Mikkel Sommer, Merijn Hos, Yukai Du, and many more. 

It's common for anthologies to be themed; it lends them a loose cohesiveness, even as individual style and interpretation ensures a degree of variation. The theme for this 9th volume of the anthology is 'Oh So Quiet,' asking artists to explore the concept of silence: 'How is silence expressed? Can it be visual? As we hurtle along at breakneck speed accompanied by the great cacophony of modern life, we rarely experience a moment of silence. Silence, with its implication of stillness and absolute purity, becomes an impossibility.' It's a theme/remit that is perhaps more challenging to the comic creators, who are used to interposing words and pictures for effect, and now have to work with the latter alone in order to convey what they want.

Leo Espinosa

As you might expect, there's a lot of going back to nature and away from the everyday noise of life and machines: Ella Baily, David Doran, Sarah Jacoby, and Joe Todd Stanton's illustration pieces all feature a communing with nature: camping under the starts, relaxing on the branch of a tree,  sledging in the snow, reading a book at the lake-side. Paige Jiyoung Moon and Elisa Macellari ruminate on that idea further, with people plugging/unplugging into technology- headphones, laptops: the silence that comes from drowning everything else out.  Then you have some wonderful imaginative, fantasy spreads, escaping into the dream-like: Leo Espinosa's little girl riding on the back of a happy, curious beast is utterly charming, as is Natalie Andrewsn's blase adventurer, giving nothing away as she  fishes in waters teeming with monsters- I really like the textures in Adrewson's work, simultaneously atmospheric and lovely.

Roger Demuth takes us to the silent depths of the ocean -or is it the sky- with his beautifully luminous floating cephalopods, intricately patterned, infusing tribal tattoo designs with an inky glow in the dark aesthetic. My favourite illustrative piece here has to be Stephen Carcello's island: it's just a superb bringing together lots of elements to create a stunning, visually arresting work of art. I like how the trees are all spiky and rigid, clumped together in a way that makes them look like broccoli, the cloudy pink sky is reminiscent of watercolour washed blotting, and the sea  given a very deliberately rendered, Hokusai effect. And then, just to the side of that, you have the surreal sight of a washed-up, abandoned ice-cream van. It's absolutely gorgeous and Carcello manipulates it into working so well.

A mention too, for Ellakookoo's fun interpretation of a robbery quietly taking place- that was a nice change of pace and tone, which made it stand out.

Roger Demuth

Stephen Carcello

Moving on to the comics section, there is (if I'm correct) the first published, in-print look at Jamie Coe's abilities (Nobrow will be publishing Coe's first book, Art-Schooled, this September), and he doesn't disappoint with a wordless tale of bullied teen falling in with his tormentors to avoid aggravation. The ending to the strip may divide people, but I think it's well-executed and feasible, shedding a layer of understanding on the foregone narrative. Disa Wallander never fails to make me laugh, and her tale of cold-ridden woman sneezing out a mucus iteration of herself is no exception- it's less juvenile and more nuanced than that, I assure you, but I don't want to spoil it. Jim Stoten's contribution is a dizzying, trippy marvel, forcing you to focus and re-focus: Stoten presents you with an image then panel, by panel, slowly focuses in on a point of that image, from which you are then re-directed to another, connected image which repeats the formula.

Bianca Bagnerelli's comic is typically exquisite; she always manages to evoke a sense of calm, and her style is sublime- leaning a little more geometric in design here- the panel with the smoking chimney rooftops, in particular. There are some wonderful realised little panels- a bare tree, a man in shadow smoking on his balcony, even the arches of McDonalds made pleasing. Bagnerelli is one of the best drawer of clouds in the business, and the final, wide panel of snow-topped mountains and a glittery purple sky caps an outstanding contribution. Mikkel Sommer's The Silent Visitor is a hilarious riff on the visitor from outer space (think The Man Who Fell to Earth but a bit more wry and twisted)- he paces the humour of the story perfectly; there's a 7 panel sequence (the bottom half of the page below) that's simply searingly on-point: the one-two panels, the turn of the head, the pull-back to show what he's looking at, the zooming in on the eyes between him and the dog. It's all the more horribly good when you've read the first 2 pages of the comic and then you come to this sequence because you know exactly what is about to take place.

Mikkel Sommer

It's interesting to see both Arne Bellstorf and Hellen Jo read silent as total escape and respite, the seeking of an out- albeit in different ways: Jo in her usual sharp, semi tongue-in-cheek manner, which sees her teen girl protagonist attempting to commune with Lucifer via blood sacrifices, while Bellstorf's character readies herself for the loudest, longest silence of all. the last two volumes of the anthology have been elevated by the four-way colour choices- Nobrow 8: Hysteria was a slightly neon, acididc, edgy affair, and the gorgeous yellow, pink, blue and green in this edition once again help to give it an extra lift. It's amazing to see artists use and stretch the colours to adapt to their needs, and Kyla Vanderklugt's comic (see below) highlights the leeway in the colour plaette, looking at those pages and bulk of the other contributions, you'd almost think it was from a different book. I'm aware of Vanderklugt's work via Josh Tierney's Spera, and she continues that epic adventure story, with a magnificently striking tale of rite and tradition, the hush of ceremony, silent acknowledgement, and quiet, dutiful resignation. Her art is uniquely suited to grandeur.

I think Nobrow have changed things up a little in this volume by giving the comic contributors 4 pages each to play with- previously some artists were allocated 2 page strips, and some 4, and I'm not sure the new way works entirely: I feel both Joe Lambert and William Exley's comics would have benefited from the shorter page length, making those pieces more tighter and cohesive. But that's the only very minor gripe here: along with 8: Hysteria, Nobrow have not only produced one of their best anthologies to date, but also one that serves as a showcase for the eloquence and power of silent comics. I could easily sit here and go through the merits of each contribution, but I think you'd be much better served to simply buy it and immerse yourself in what is currently the foremost (Eisner award nominated!) graphic art anthology around.

Wednesday, 16 April 2014

Zac Gorman announces new, original Costume Quest book

Comics Alliance announced last week that Zac Gorman will have his first book releasing this October, and rather fittingly, it's an original graphic novelisation of an existing video-game. The game in question is Costume Quest, which finds it's young protagonist and friends battling through candy-snatching beasts called Grubbins on Halloween, in order to travel to another dimension and retrieve their kidnapped twin (players can choose which twin to play as- Reynold or Wren). Gorman's comic book will turn that scenario on its head, instead following a 'good' young Grubbin called Klem, and narrating his adventures on that same Halloween.

I'm a big fan of Gorman's cartoons and comic strips over at Magical Game Time, mostly created in tribute to his favourite video-games, but they're nicely done in that he'll take elements of the narrative and interpret them in his own way,  or combine his experiences and emotions into the strip (he gets to the emotional heart of a gaming narrative quickly, as high falutin as that may sound), so it's easy to see why he was tapped for this project and how it plays to his strengths. I imagine it will be easily readable as a stand-alone book, too.  He talked to Comics Alliance about making the leap from shorter strips on the internet to a full-blow book:

'I started doing comic strips back in maybe 2007 or 2008 and honestly I’ve never really done more than a single page strip. I’ve drawn a few short stories, maybe 5-10 pages but probably no more than I could count on my fingers. Honestly, I’ve always been intimidated by longer narratives. Once I broke down and actually committed to doing a book though I’ve really fallen in love with the process. I’m already writing my next two books, so I think I’m going to keep doing this as long as somebody wants to publish what I’m turning out.' 

And a little on future projects: 'One is a short [comic], about 20-30 pages in length for Retrofit that should be out later this year. The other is a more ambitious project of around 100 pages or so in length which I hope to finish sometime this fall.' 

That sort of tie-in book often leads to greater exposure, and I hope that leads to more opportunities for Gorman: he has a lovely style and is a very capapble cartoonist; he started a comic online a while back, Escape From Burger Town, which was really good- I'd love to see more in that vein. Costume Quest: Invasion of the Body Snatches will be published around October, close to the release of  the game's sequel, Costume Quest 2.

Comics Shelfie: Lizz Lunney

It's Wednesday, which here on the blog, means it's time to take a nosy at yet another comics creator's bookshelves and some of their favourite books. This week, it's the turn of Lizz Lunney, probably best known for the most famous feline of them all- Depressed Cat, but if you're at all familiar with the UK comics scene, you'll know Lunney's a highly regraded mainstay, producing her wry, often surreal, humorous narratives, a new collection of which, Take Away, has just been published by Blank Slate. If you're looking for the adventures and musings of Romantic Bison and Self-Aware Rabbit, you've found your nirvana.

Over to Lizz:

'I have way too many books. I don't know why I bother paying rent because I could just build a house out of all the books that I own and live in there for free. I don't have a separate place where I keep comics and zines, they are all mixed in with other books that I have hoarded over the years. My aunt was a librarian before she retired and when I was growing up I would stay with her each summer, I'm sure it was these visits to the library where she worked in Malvern that gave me such a love of books. I have recently attempted to arrange the books in my studio and now have two bookcases with books displayed in rainbow order.

I have a cabinet in my bedroom that houses a row of zines and smaller comics alongside my collection of Chewbacca figures and other stupid collectibles (which I made zines about- here and here). The comics in there are mainly self published comics that I bought from zine fairs about 10 years ago or zines people have given me over the years. I organise Birmingham Zine Festival and last year some of my collection went on tour to various art galleries as part of that. A lot of zines/comics I keep in a mystery machine suitcase because I have too many to keep on the shelf.

These are some of my favourite self published zines/mini comics- X-Files Slime and Bugs by Josephin Ritchel:

Japanese Journal/Purikura Hontou zines by Bunny Bissoux:

Turtie Needs Work by Steve Wolfhard:

There are piles of books everywhere around my house that I have no storage space for and so they cover practically every surface in every room trapping me in and making me feel guilty that I don't have enough time to read them all. I want to clear out the ones I don't need but getting rid of books feels like throwing away kittens. My comic collection began with the Beano, Dandy, Viz, Asterix, Garfield, Snoopy, Calvin and Hobbes and Disney comics then after University I discovered Jeffrey Brown, Daniel Clowes, Posy Simmonds, Robert Crumb, Chris Ware, Art Spiegelman, Harvey Pekar, etc. which was when I started drawing comics myself. Most of my book collection is made up of stuff that is technically cartoons but probably wouldn't be found in the comic section of bookshops: David Shrigley, John Lennon, Spike Milligan (all big influences to my work) and then loads of books about comedy, psychology, philosophy, sexuality, space, dinosaurs, X-Files and the Beatles.

Some comic highlights/recommendations: 

Dreamtoons by Jesse Reklaw
This was one of the first comics I came across after University and still one of my favourites. Jesse Reklaw illustrated dreams that people sent in to him. I hate hearing someone describing the dream they had last night as much as the next person but in this comic they are hilarious and fascinating. My own dreams are where I get a lot of my ideas for characters and situations so I enjoy re-reading this book as a reminder that it is ok to do the majority of my work while I am asleep.

The Fifth Beatle: The Brian Epstein Story
This is a graphic novel I read recently because I'm a Beatles fan so the topic interested me, at first I wasn't sure if I'd like the art style because I'm not really into technically perfect stylized drawings but I was surprised at how the artwork in this complemented the moving story and gave a real atmosphere of the 60s.

Cycle of Violence by Grayson Perry
I'm a fan of Grayson Perry's artwork and his tapestries that are explored in the Channel 4 documentary series "The Vanity of Small Differences"  are essentially giant comic panels that tell a story. I recently went to a talk he did at Southbank as part of the "Be A Man" festival and discovered that he had a graphic novel out called Cycle of Violence which I immediately tracked down. It is the story of a man driven to kill by childhood demons and a satire on psychotherapy. It also has a mean review on Amazon that made me laugh "Oops wrong Cycle of Violence! And frankly this book is total Bollocks. An absolute waste of 2hrs of my life." (Untrue, the book is brilliant)'

Many thanks to Lizz for her time and participation. You can view all the previous installments of Comics Shelfie here. Remember to stop by on the 30th of April for the next installment.

Monday, 14 April 2014

Under-rated gem: Ariol

It's been a while since I wrote, or added to, the comics for kids list, and after putting together this month's 'With pound in hand,' gathering April's most anticipated graphic novel releases, including the fourth volume of French all-ages comic, Ariol, I realised I've never actually talked about the series here, so let's address that. Ariol is published in English by US publishers, Papercutz, who specialise in all-ages comics, and for some reason it's another of those imprints whose books seem to be strangely under represented in the UK; this is not, as far as I'm aware, due to any distribution problem (stores can order them via Diamond, and no doubt various other book distributors). Papercutz publish quite a few 'property' comics- Power Rangers, Disney Fairies, as well as translating Peyo's The Smurfs, and most recently, the hugely successful Lego Ninjagos, but the undoubted gem in their crown is French children's bande dessinee series, Ariol. Illustrated by Marc Boutavant (Mouk) and written by Emmanuel Guibert (The Photographer), Ariol follows the everyday life of its titular character, a young, blue, 9 year old donkey, and his cast of animal family and friends.

And when I say everyday, I mean everyday- nothing hugely remarkable or unbelievable happens- Ariol chats to his parents, has his best friend, Ramono, over to play, goes to the shop to buy stickers, accompanies his dad while he uses the ATM, visits his grandparents, reads his favourite comic, Thunder-Horse. But there's a a straight-forward charm to that- yes, children have imaginations and love to be immersed in new worlds, but it's lovely, and important, I think, too, to have their world, and themselves reflected back at them, for them to see the ordinary, and all it encompasses- humour, differences, accidents, love, friendships, falling outs, - all of that presented as being enough. It's a beautifully, evenly written comic which never panders or postures to any of its audience- there's a great story where Ariol asks his mum  about the phrase 'dumb-ass' and why donkey's are considered stupid, and horrified, she begins to explain to him how people can be ignorant and why he must never think of himself that way. Ariol's busy following his own thought process however, musing on how pigs considered dirty and his best friend, Romono (a pig), is indeed, so perhaps there's something in the way people think after all. It's pretty much how you would imagine a conversation about prejudices with a 9 year old might go. It's clever writing from Guibert who wisely refrains from shoehorning any stodgy ideology, instead just sparking a point of discussion or thought, in service to the narrative.

That approach fits with Guibert's previously stated 'I write for adults thinking about children and I write for children thinking about adults. I want to be clear, simple, and candid with the adults and subtle and engaging with children. It merely means providing them with all the truest things that life has taught us,' and I always think that's a hallmark for all-ages comics that are genuinely special, appreciable to both children and adults, although perhaps on different levels. Ariol originally began serialisation in 1999, the popularity of which led to the strips being collected and released as individual volumes, the fourth of which will be published in English later this month.

I know some people are put off by anthropomorphism (someone once asked me, very distressed, 'but why are they animals?!'), but I love it, and generally kids do, too- and are much more accepting of it- kids don't blink an eyelid at upright, clothed, talking donkeys. It's another way also of presenting differences, various family units and situations, without making it overtly political. While a number of anthropomorphic books focus on realism, rendering the characters as naturally as possible when blending human postures and frames to animal facets- like in Blacksad, for example, where Canales and Guarnido take the underlying characteristics of animals and emphasise them in both charcaterisation and visual depiction- Blacksad himself, a cat, a detective, wily, smart, always managing to get out of scrapes- that whole nine lives aspect, the faithful dogged nobility of an Alsatian translates into a police inspector, a young fox is a reporter looking to work his way up, and so on- all exquisitely painted by Guarnido.

The pleasure in Guibert and Boutavant's anthropomorphism is that the animals are given unexpected quirks and facets- personalities- which still fit in loosely with their animalistic associations: the duck is the laid-back, cool kid, surgically attached to his headphones, off in a world of his own, Bizzbella the fly is a nervous type, Petula the cow, lovely and a little stuck up. Those qualities are then blended with the inherent nature of children- curiosity, forthrightness, innocence and wonder, all of which Boutavant illustrates with clear, fine lines.

The books have a lovely design, too, a nice size to hold- slightly larger than A5, a bit more square (easily transportable to take and read, and as pedantic as it may sound, to hold) sturdy cardboard covers with french flaps, where all the characters and their names are listed along with little icons, making it easy to familairise (or re-familairise) yourself with the characters. Another aspect that I like about the Ariol books is that each volume contains roughly 12 individual stories- there's a contents page at the front- with individual stories flagged by a title page (see below)  with an illustrated mast-head, making it easy to dip in and out of, and clear to follow. The four panel pages are similarly simple to navigate, so even if you or your child have never read comics before, this is uncomplicated and a great way to ease in to the medium. Ariol is a fantastic series- gorgeously illustrated, intelligent, well-written ,with absolutely nothing to worry about in terms of content, and one that I, at 26 years old, enjoy immensely and which I'm confident children of all ages will love, too.

The comics were adapted into a French-Canadian production TV show in 2009, I've included some screenshots below, because I love the way they've retained Boutavant's characters and style and blended it with digitally produced backgrounds:

Here's one of the episodes I found on Youtube (this one's in English and about 4 minutes long)- it's pretty much a direct adaptation of 'The Videogame' from Ariol vol 3: Happy as a Pig, yet mysteriously re-named 'The Twiddle':

You can find the Ariol website (in French) here

Gene Luen Yang, Ulli Lust win LA Times book prizes

The 34th annual LA Times Book Prize ceremony took place last Friday, with two graphic novels taking home prizes. The prize began recognising comics in 2010, with the introduction of the 'graphic novels/comics' category, this year won by Austrian artists Ulli Lust for her memoir, Today Is the Last Day of the Rest of Your Life, published in English by Fantagraphics. The book has previously won an Ignatz award, and a prize at Angouleme in 2011 for the original German language edition. You can read Lust's lovely acceptance speech in comics format over at the Fantagraphics' blog.

More notably, perhaps, Gene Luen Yang once again triumphed for his superb historical diptych Boxers And Saints, in the young adult prose category, beating out such popular authors as Rainbow Rowell and Elizabeth Knox. Yang's win marks the first time in the history of the prize a comic has won in a non-comic (prose) category. It's fantastic to see comics continue to be nominated and recognised along with prose books, and especially nice to see Yang take home the prize for his excellent work; he seems to give a lot of his time working with schools and young people, and it's always that much nicer to see good people rewarded.

photograph via First Second's Facebook page

Graphic Novels/Comics prize:
Incidents in the Night by David B.
Today is the Last Day of the Rest of your Life by Ulli Lust
Hand-Drying in America: And Other Stories by Ben Katchor
The End by Anders Nielsen
The Great War by Joe Sacco

Young Adult Literature prize:
What the Heart Knows: Chants, Charms and Blessings by Joyce Sidman
Fangirl by Raibow Rowell
Boxers and Saints by Gene Luen Yang
Lockwood & Co: The Screaming Staircase by Jonathan Stroud
Mortal Fire by Elizabeth Knox